The Dreaded Pre-Season For Footballers

With our ‘summer’ over and a base fitness attained, the dreaded pre-season awaits. We have had our time to enjoy the things we can’t always enjoy during the season and now is the time to refocus and get back to work. Although we have been putting in some hard work in the off-season, in preparation for pre-season, we know this is when the hard work really starts!


The return to pre-season

Pre-season is physically demanding and puts us through intense and exhausting sessions that push us to our limits. Although it isn’t enjoyable, we know that this intense graft is going to make sure we are physically ready for whatever comes our way throughout the season.

The first day of pre-season is always a bag of mixed emotions:

  • Excitement to see everybody and get back to football.
  • Sadness as we say goodbye to another summer that always seems to disappear in a flash.
  • Nerves as fitness testing is about to get underway.
  • Relief when the first day is complete!

Time in the off-season always seems to fly by and the holiday blues are still present in that first week of pre-season. Especially as most of our family and friends are able to enjoy holidays during the summer months, whilst we are missing out because of football!

Over the first couple of days in pre-season we normally undergo:

  • Body fat tests
  • Speed and agility tests
  • Running endurance tests (each club has their preference as to what tests they inflict on their players)
  • Strength testing (in the gym)

These are overseen by the sports scientists, who are never flavour of the month during the first month back! They are usually in charge of overseeing the fitness side of pre-season aswell as during the season.

The tests are a big contributor to those first-day nerves because we are unaware of how we’re going to compare with the rest of the team.

Have we perhaps overindulged over the break?

Or have we not done quite as much as others during the off-season, resulting in us being miles behind in the testing?

It’s always a great sense of relief when the hard work has paid off and you feel fit and strong in the testing. Nobody wants to come last!

Aswell as this being a personal confidence booster, it’s also a positive start to the neverending competition for the shirts that are up for grabs come that first game of the season.

All smiles before the dreaded Yo-Yo test but that smile didn’t last long! Image by Tom Mulholland

Some clubs go away on tours, with trips abroad and to other parts of the country, participating in training camps and matches. These serve a great purpose with players spending an extended period together improving team camaraderie and helping any new recruits settle into the squad.

Pre-season training sessions are a mixture of:

  • Running
  • Football
  • Gym

As tough as these sessions are, I am often grateful when I hear the horror stories of pre-seasons before my time! A football was rarely seen for the first week, with players put through relentless, physically draining running drills. These would frequently result in bouts of vomiting because of the limits bodies were pushed to.

Nowadays though, pre-season isn’t all purely running based, with the footballs normally out from day one and incorporated into some of the fitness drills. Don’t get me wrong though, the football sessions are just as tough but every player would say that they prefer a ball at their feet whilst getting fit, instead of constant running!

The football sessions we tend to do during pre-season are more or less the same drills we would do throughout the season, except the durations and pitch dimensions of the drills are extended, to continuously improve our fitness levels.

For example, we may find ourselves completing a small-sided game. At the end of the game, we will go straight into a running drill before then going back into another small-sided game. Whereas during the season, that running drill would be an extended recovery period because the purposes of the two sessions would be different.

Limited rest means instead of making decisions when our mind is fresh, we have to make decisions whilst fatigued. Our bodies and minds will become fatigued as games reach their climax. Our ability to concentrate for longer periods will limit mistakes as our bodies tire.

Pre-season training with Portsmouth during my loan spell at the club. Image by Portsmouth FC

What happens in pre-season as the season approaches

Throughout pre-season, teams will play in friendly games. Our minutes on the pitch are gradually increased over the first few games, to limit the risk of injuries and allow us to build our match fitness until we reach a full 90 minutes.

However, as I have mentioned before in posts, the game is constantly evolving. Players are returning to training in better condition and a lot fitter than years gone by. Players are now able to step up their pre-season minutes a lot quicker than was possible before, without the increased risk of picking up injuries through fatigue.

Results and performances aren’t the main priority during the early games of pre-season, so you will see teams fielding trialists and trying new formations and tactics. As pre-season reaches its climax and the season approaches, the priorities change.

Winning is ALWAYS the main priority in first-team football but with these games, especially early on, it isn’t the be-all and end-all. I have been at clubs where we have underperformed in pre-season but have started the season very well and vice-versa. This is why winning in pre-season is not always the priority and the focus is primarily on the overall fitness and conditioning of the squad. This is when those GPS vests are a great tool to have, allowing the coaching staff to control the workloads and monitor fitness levels.

Playing in a pre-season game for Crystal Palace against Crawley Town FC

Towards the back end of pre-season the volume of the training sessions comes down. Teams start nailing down set pieces and tactics for the season ahead. This allows the players to experiment with these new tactics in friendlies, without the risk of losing valuable points.

Fixtures for the new season are released during pre-season. Players will always look for specific dates on ‘fixture release day’. The most popular dates that players and families will look to see where they are playing on that specific day are:

  • Birthdays
  • Christmas
  • Pre-planned events (to see if the player could possibly make it after a game)
  • Opening day
  • Last day of the season

Once they are released, attention quickly turns to that first game with the competition for starting places in the team heating up.

The first game comes around very quickly once the fixtures are released. Training intensifies and we can feel the atmosphere change slightly as starting spots are now at stake.

There is always a buzz around the club in the week leading up to that first game. The last game of pre-season is ticked off and now the focus is solely on the first game of the season. This is when training sessions and schedules will be adapted to the way a normal week of preparation for games would look.

Before we know it, the dreaded pre-season is over and we are at the start of what is sure to be, another rollercoaster of a season. 

Walking in on the first day of pre-season seems a million miles away and we wonder how we have managed to get through the exhausting schedule. No matter how many of them I have completed, they never get easier. Although we become hardened and half know what to expect, nothing can prepare us for this GRUELLING period!

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